Dærick Gröss Sr. has 50 years in the commercial art field, Dærick has worked as an illustrator, instructor, and art director. He has painted, drawn, written and edited comics for Marvel, DC, Image, Malibu, Studio G, Heroic, Revolutionary, Chaos, Innovation, Topps, and numerous other companies. Dærick is well known for the creations of Murciélaga She-Bat. Currently, he is the Art Director for ACP Comics.
First Comics News: Where did you grow up?
1st: Were you a comic fan as a kid?
Dærick: Great Hera, yes!
1st: What type of comics did you read?
Dærick: Every superhero on the market plus funny animals and Archie.
Dærick: Art and Theatre.
1st: After you graduated you went to Central Academy of Commercial Art in Cincinnati, was this a graduate program?
Dærick: No. I was disappointed in the art instruction at the University in that it was not really teaching me anything so much as allowing me to explore. This was not what I was looking for, so I searched for a more instructive school, one to teach me how to do what I needed to know how to do. The Academy was the choice for that and it was perfect. After the hardcore two year training, my skill set was refined, my knowledge about the specific tenets of art was grown and I was able to walk out the door and be hired. It was never my intent to be the ‘fine artist’ and just create what I felt and let others find it as they might, but to be an illustrator who could create art that was immediately usable by others.
Dærick: Actually, after art school I went into advertising as a ‘staff artist’ for a year and a half, then to a Cincinnati television station art department for three years (doing freelance summer-stock theatre program covers along the way), THEN went to the Cincinnati Post as their regular staff artist/cartoonist and moved into the art director position.
None of this had anything to do with leading me into comics other than enhancing my skills.
1st: I was a lifelong fan and collector of comics. But thoroughly believing the old axiom ‘never work in the field you enjoy as a pastime. It will destroy your love’. Kind of like “Do not learn how the sausage is made.” After all these years, I have to say that there is much truth in that old saying. I got into comics when I responded to a bulletin board memo at an art school in Los Angeles, where I was teaching as a supplement to my 10 years of Freelancing. This became the work CFW Magazines and the days of the Reiki Warriors and the creation of my Murciélaga/She-Bat character…. and soon to Innovation Comics.
Dærick: The Vampire Lestat series, initially. I started as the painter over Joe Phillips pencils and then stepped in to do all the art after Joe left. It became way too overwhelming to do and stay on schedule so after a few issues I opted to do the pencils for the remainder of the series so that the basic look would stay intact, and had other illustrators do the color work. After the success of Lestat, I was offered the chance to do a mini-series of my choosing and I opted for FORBIDDEN PLANET. We did a four-issue adaptation of the movie. My focus for the visuals was to show scenes of what the planet looked like in the page art behind the story panels. After that, we did Queen of the damned where I did only the covers.
1st: How did you get the job on Batman: Two-Face?
Dærick: The Vampire Lestat won Comicon’s Russ Manning award, and because of that, my credentials were elevated enough for DC to say OK to Mike Barr’s request to use me on his story.
Dærick: Not so much to work on Batman specifically, as it was to work for DC. They were the owners/creators of my most favorite characters. Unfortunately, I did not perform well on the two books. Missed a few too many deadlines. Learned that I was not best suited for sequential work in that I did not yet have ‘a look’ or ‘style’ that would just flow out of me from panel to panel. After the principle page layouts were done, each panel became its own illustration and could easily take up to a day to finish. Also, painting itself was a labor that did not lend itself to speed. Anyway, as much as I loved the project and am still comfortable with most (but certainly not all) of the results, I rather severely burned that bridge.
1st: You also worked at the Marvel X-Men office on Excalibur. What was it like working on an X-Men title?
Dærick: At that time, I had gained more practical experience having worked with Malibu, London Knight, and a few other companies, and had moved back into penciling and inking, rather than full painting, so my time management had improved a good bit. Of the Marvel characters, the X-men were a favorite, so this was a thrill. I had done a few random back-up stories and a few ’emergency fill-ins’ on other titles, so I felt really honored to get this. My thrill of the project was having a chance to draw Nightcrawler. He was/is my absolute favorite X-man.
This proved to be a really good timing as it paved the way to my getting on board the Marvel Cybercomics project in the early stages of it and got to draw and pencil-render a dozen or so stories, mostly Spiderman.
Dærick: Murciélaga was first created back in 1988 for the CFW books as a member of the REIKI team in Robo Warriors. I created her not long after DC killed Batwoman. As silly as she was, I liked the character and was upset with her removal. I was also irked by the lack-luster, ho-hum backup story approach to killing her off. But… it opened a door for a ‘woman’ bat-character to appear in comics. I deliberately worked on her creation to make it as UN-Batman-like as possible to avoid any conflict… a Latina operating in LA with a mutant power, etc. I also felt that in the genre that she was being seen, at this time, there would be no real conflict.
1st: Were there any legal problems for Murciélaga She-Bat, with DC having their own Batgirl?
Dærick: No. As I said, I worked very hard to make her a ‘non-connection’ beyond the bat-theme. And even then, I worked away from all ‘trademarkable’ imagery at that time. Her cape was two-colors, and only Robin had anything like it, and his came after hers, she does not use technology, or gimmicky weapons, is a bit afraid of heights, does not swing on ropes, fights with martial arts and related weapons and places the word ‘bat’ AFTER her gender… She-Bat. The only thing that carries a visual link is the scalloped cape. But the scallops, like a tiger stripe, is an absolute identity-image of the animal that, in and of itself, is unique and usable by anyone. To eliminate any DC bat-reference, I designed her scallops to be very small and run along all sides of the cape, not just across the bottom. DC assured me through communication, that they saw no conflict. My bigger conflict came from NealAdams over the name, as he also had created a character named SheBat. We agreed (more or less) to some minor tweaks and moved ahead. He named his character ‘Valeria, THE SHE BAT’, and I use ‘Murciélaga, She-Bat’. Neal uses ‘THE’ and no hyphen; I don’t use ‘THE’ and have a hyphen.
Dærick: Rather easily actually, although it was mostly due to my lack of any concrete business skills. We started with CFW as a comic magazine and later as a real comic book. They reached a point where they needed to drop the book(s) because of too many ‘returnables. Sales were really very good, 8-12 thousand per issue as I recall, but the loss on returnables offset that. They had only ever dealt with ‘newsstands’ where returnables was a built-in necessity. They (and I) had not learned how to deal with the relatively new thing called COMIC BOOK STORES, or with them, then, a handful of distribution companies. From CFW I connected with Heroic Publishing and set up several titles with them. After a few issues were in the works, I felt (mistakenly) taken advantage of and shifted to Revolutionary comics kind-of midstream. I had a good rapport with Revolutionary and thought this would be great. They folded before our second issue. She sat unpublished for a while, as I took stab at publishing under my brand, Studio G. We paired with several comic creators to help them get their exposure. They did fairly well, but I learned that I was not a good enough businessman to be working with other peoples creations. So I started to publish Murciélaga She-Bat myself. We got three issues out when my (in-home studio burned down. We finished the fourth issue and had to let it. I was able to keep her copyright-ability alive over the next several years because of the public appearance on social media and her own (then) website. Heroic came back to me and asked if I wanted to get back in print. I was surprised since I had done them such a bad turn, but we buried that and moved forward. I personally run hot and cold on my energy to apply to any one thing, so NEW She-Bat material has been a bit sparse… but the is some nice material coming.
Dærick: Actually, outside of comics, I have illustrated several books, a few movie posters, numerous cartoons, and a ton of advertising and promotional material, BUT… to the question… The Guide To Getting It On (Now in print without ‘The’) is an educational book on human sexuality written in an extremely straightforward and HUMOROUS style. I did the art as was assigned, being medically accurate, but with a very lighthearted approach.
1st: How long has it remained in print?
Dærick: Between the INCREDIBLE writing and my ‘fun’ illustrations, it has been a best seller, and required reading in several colleges, for over a decade now. The first edition hit the stands in 1996. It is in its 9thedition, has a website, and is on social media.
1st: How does it feel to have one of your books as course reading material for the California State University? (http://reserves.calstate.edu/sanfrancisco/course/1667964490002918)
Dærick: It is a bit overwhelming, especially since it completely escaped my conscience that this was even a possibility. My conception of college texts was that they were ‘designed to be’ college texts… and this wasn’t, so it was not on my radar.
1st: You spent a lot of time working on the business end of comics too. Do you enjoy the production of comics as much as drawing comics?
Dærick: So long as I am not involved with the marketing aspect, or the finances… I loved the production side. I like working with other artists, especially ‘growing’ artists and writers, to help them strengthen their skills and hone them into the needs of a project. At my current stage in life, I do not possess the energy or focus to draw full stories anymore, so I try to stick with singular illustrations, whether for comics or not.
Dærick: Dr. Kandeel, the founder/creator of AK Comics got in touch with me while I was still publishing as Studio G back in 2003. He had comics that he had created in Egypt and was looking for an American audience. He had a good team put together at the time for moving forward, but some of the existing work that needed to be pushed out ahead was not strong enough to compete in the American market, so the initial sales were too low to continue after a few issues, even though the quality had moved up. In 2005, we started over with a new foundation and fresh art on older stories. This time we also included Middle Eastern versions of the book in Arabic. We re-ran the first round stories with new or upgrades art to set the line and advanced with new stories, character development, and art, but within a year, the expenses were outweighing profits. Despite a strong fan base and good reviews, we didn’t make it work. AK books still have a strong following, though.
Dærick: We created them here in the states, working with several Brazilian artists. They were selected early on because they were very good artists (a few have grown into the Marvel and DC stables) and were much more affordable than what was then available in the states. As they were being published here, we sent the files to a team in Egypt that adjusted the books for the Middle-Eastern audience. They needed to adjust some of the costuming for proper modesty, re-letter the stories and compile the pages to read from right to left, and print and distribute… no small feat.
1st: How did you deal with the different cultural acceptances of female characters in the Western World and the Muslim World?
Dærick: We had to redesign one of the costumes for the Arabic editions, and get the artists to rethink the crowd scenes, as the crowds tended to look typically American. It took a few issues of each title to bring the ‘crowd concept’ around, but it made a huge impact on the flavor of the stories.
Dærick: As a brand, not too much. I started a humor spinoff Called ‘The G Spot’ focusing on original cartoons and strips for the social media world.
1st: You are the Visual Editor at inDELible Comics, what is a visual editor?
Dærick: It is similar to art director, but specifically encompasses ‘all visual elements’ and not solely the art, even though ‘art director’ has grown into that same definition.
Dærick: It is an outgrowth line from the InDELLible group. There was an old comic series called Popular Comics, and this hails back to it.
1st: You are also the Art Director at ACP Comics. How did you get involved with William Mull?
Dærick: From the Charlton Arrow and Charlton Neo groups of people. I was working with Mort Todd, Paul Kupperberg, and Roger McKenzie on a couple of stories for their planned rebirth of the Charlton line. I met William during a get-together one evening in LA. I agreed to do an 8-page story for a similar project he was starting up. It grew to helping with more of the coloring and development into being Art Director.
1st: Are inDELible and ACP ok with you working for both companies at the same time?
Dærick: Of course they would prefer exclusivity, but since I am a free-lance creator, and am not on the payroll for either one, they are ok with it… provided that I don’t abuse the situation and am totally dedicated to their specific project and it’s timetable … allowing a little leeway for my fluctuating focus issues.
1st: As art director what are your duties at ACP?
Dærick: With ACP, the parent grouping, I do the same things as I do on the individual titles, like Forbidden Gallery, plus company promotional art, title logos and art direction,
1st: What is Forbidden Gallery?
Dærick: A comic book collection of stories that have a dark or horror slant to them, usually with a surprise ending, much like the old Twilight Zone TV series had. It is not an exclusive genre as there have been some adventure stories, but it mostly dwells there.
1st: What parts do you work on with Forbidden Gallery?
Dærick: Primarily I oversee the art and work with the artists to bring forth their best efforts, to be sure that everything is in proper scale, create the cover compilations, to letter and/or check the lettering of others, create titles and credits, create the contents page, do the pagination layouts and create the back cover if needed. After which I convert all the pages into print files and also a locked PDF for the creators and reviewers.
1st: Each chapter starts with a Pin-Up. Does the Pin-Up work as a de facto cover, or is it designed to move you out of the mood of one story before the next story begins?
Dærick: Both, actually… I am not sure which was the foremost consideration in William’s mind in the beginning. For me, it changes the tone and sets the mood for the next story.
1st: What type of stories are you looking for in Forbidden Gallery?
Dærick: I’m not personally looking for anything in particular, that for all to the editorial minds, but I do want to see that the visuals remain appropriate to the story as much as possible (artistic style has a huge impact on how connected the reader is to the story), and avoid unnecessary visuals of gore and implicit macabre.
1st: How do you choose the artist for each chapter?
Dærick: To this point, the choices have been William’s from his established connections. I had some input on the viability standards, initially, and have grown into a more substantial input on the initial contact. From my personal viewpoint, the artist needs to be consistent in his art, able to do sequential storytelling beyond the level of ‘talking heads’, and be at least near ‘competitive level’ in his skillset. I can settle for a lower level if the look of the art is emotional and grows the story.
1st: What makes Forbidden Gallery so cool, that everyone reading this interview needs to stop and pre-order Forbidden Gallery #2 right now?
Dærick: Vincent Price and Boris Karloff. These are the kinds of stories that these two iconic Masters should be narrating…. and probably would be if these were filmed back in the day. Despite the range of story tone and visual style, the book has the wonderful ability to bring that special ‘tingle’ that these two giants always gave us. It’s ‘good reads’ for sure.